The name “alabaster” is certainly of Egyptian origin and might come from the town of Alabastron, formerly famous for the production of jars and amphoras made to preserve perfumes. Alabaster is a sedimentary rock that has two varieties: a so-called oriental alabaster or “alabastrite”, and the other type of alabaster that is chalky and much softer, generally white in colour with a similar appearance to marble. The chalky alabaster, which is carved in Volterra and, in particular the one that is mined from the subsoil of Castellina Marittima, was formed in the Miocene period following a process of sedimentation and the concentration of the calcium sulphate contained in marine waters. It is a pure-white stone that can be carved with greater ease than marble, due to its particular softness and is therefore suited for making certain intricately detailed ornamental motifs on a small scale, and for portraying the features of the human face, according to the aesthetical norms that dominated the guidelines of classical art. It was almost a stone of the gods, the Etruscans used it to build sarcophagi and cinerary urns with elaborate decorations depicting an image of the deceased, together with scenes of daily life, to imagine journeys in the afterlife and famous episodes from Greek mythology.
In nature there are various types of alabaster, each one with its own characteristics; the details of which are listed below: